The photo above is everything this team didn’t need. Granted, it could be worse. That could be Arthur Brown sitting on the ground. Or John Hubert. Or Collin Klein. However, junior linebacker Tre Walker is reportedly on crutches according to his twitter feed, and the Manhattan Mercury carried a quote from receiver Curry Sexton saying there were “no doubts that you’ll see Tre back out there next August.” Not in December. Not in January. August. Not good. So let’s examine what missing Walker for the rest of the season means.
A preseason All-Big 12 selection by Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, Walker made his mark in 2011 against Miami. In that game of inches, Walker recorded eight tackles, the most significant being the game-winner at the goal line on fourth down. However, Walker has been outshined by his fellow ‘backers this year. His highest tackle total in conference this season was four (against Kansas), and has yet to record a sack, interception, or forced fumble. There are 19 stops to his credit this season. And at 225 pounds, Walker hasn’t necessarily been the cog that occupies offensive linemen while Justin Tuggle and Arthur Brown. Even so, Walker was a valuable leader who posted 11 starts last year and played in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010.
Looking at the rest of the schedule, two teams boast a running game capable of making this team miss Tre Walker. The first comes this Saturday against Oklahoma State, who averages 239 yards on the ground a game with 5.6 yards/carry. And because quarterback Wes Lunt is healthy again the Wildcats can’t simply load the box – Malone and Chapman will get picked apart. The team then travels to Texas Christian, who only averages 167 yards per game and appears to be sinking fast as injuries and player departures are quickly catching up. K-State then travels to play a Baylor team that, though demonstrating a little more success than TCU on the ground, is still pretty one-dimensional. Finally, Texas pays a December visit in a game that could determine whether the Big XII has a representative in the national title game. The Longhorns entered the year with a three-headed monster at running back, and five players have over 100 yards rushing. Texas averages an even five yards per carry, and with a quarterback situation coach Mack Brown remains unable to resolve, this game could be an absolute grinder.
It’s not that this team can’t weather adversity – the Wildcats went on to clench a Cotton Bowl berth last year after dynamic receiver/return man Tyler Lockett went down. Teams must stare down injuries every year. In fact, Iowa State announced this week that linebacker Jake Knott’s career with the team is finished and he will be undergoing shoulder surgery. Knott is one of the best linebackers in the conference… ever. It could be worse. Additionally, Kansas State has been relatively injury free this year, and odds were that something would happen at some point. Walker just happened to be the unfortunate victim of statistics.
Tre Walker will be missed more this Saturday than at any other point in the season short of K-State’s bowl game. Oklahoma State can both run and pass the ball, and runs the kind of complex sets that make you want a leader on field to keep everyone’s head on straight. However, it’s important to remember every team has to deal with these sorts of injuries. K-State is lucky enough to have several playmakers ready to make stops like Walker did against Miami last year, and (assuming the scuttlebutt is true), we look forward to seeing him lined up on the outside in 2013.